This afternoon Tunisian Prime Minister Béji Caïd Essebsi doubled down in the face of protests, addressing the Tunisian people after a weekend of tumult over the security situation and the transitional process. He reiterated several times that the elections will be held on October 23 and that the government, political parties, and people must work together to make sure these take place, regardless of the security fears. (For more information, see the French write-up at Leaders.com)
Some observers had predicted that after the violent weekend across Tunisia that he might pass power to the military. Instead, Essebsi offered support for the security forces and not so subtly criticized certain political parties, notably the Islamist party Ennahda, for not offering constructive support to the commission charged with leading the transitional process (la Haute Instance pour la réalisation des objectifs de la révolution). He also criticized the media for what he called their role in fomenting discord in the country.
Immediate reactions among online Tunisian activists were quite negative. They criticized the fact that the Prime Minister did not mention the victims of violence committed by the police and his criticism of the media. To many, these sounded like government rhetoric under Ben Ali, which used the security apparatus and journalistic crackdowns to ensure its survival.
Essebsi’s speech carries the risk of further alienating both activists and those who think the transition is not moving fast enough. More importantly, his veiled criticisms of Ennahda risks further encouraging the growing theory that the transitional government is not looking to defend the values of the revolution. An increasingly independent press, some of whom were attacked by security forces over the weekend at the Kasbah, will not take kindly to criticisms of their new-found journalistic integrity. However, Essebsi remains one of the most, if not the most popular political figures and it is likely that his speech was aimed at the average Tunisian, who distrusts both the media, and the political parties vying for power.
In either case, there will likely be further fallout over today’s speech and the country is increasingly nervous as the elections approach.